What’s the fastest way of boarding a plane?

3rd Sep 2011
Written by: James Roberts

What’s the fastest way of boarding a plane?

Recent tests have shown that the most common way of boarding a plane is among the least efficient.

The current method for boarding a plane, from the rear to the front, takes on average 6 minutes and 11 seconds.

However, an approach called the ‘Steffen method’ (named after the man who came up with the algorithm, Jason Steffen), uses a completely different strategy.

His solution requires passengers to board from the back of the plane, by alternate rows, filling window seats on one side of the cabin first. The pattern is repeated for the other side of the cabin, then applied to middle, and then aisle seats.

Boarding those in window seats first followed by middle and aisle seats results in a 40% gain in efficiency, cutting boarding time down to 3 minutes and 36 seconds.

Jason Steffen, an astrophysicist at Fermi National Laboratory in Illinois, first considered the problem of plane boarding in 2008 when he found himself in a long boarding queue. Over the last three years he has been developing and testing his theory.

His findings, based on carrying out a number of computer simulations, have been published in the Journal of Air Transport Management.

Boarding a plane faster would be a boost for budget airlines who are keen to minimise the time on the ground in order to maximise revenue by operating as many flights as possible.

Currently many no-frills airlines opt for a free for all, while increasingly scheduled carriers have started charging economy class passengers a fee to choose their seat in advance.

Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, said: “We will always look at anything that would improve our 25-minute turnarounds or our No 1 punctuality.”


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